Sunday, July 14, 2024

Yes, You Should Switch to a Cheap Hard-sided Travel Toiletries Kit + How (And What) To Pack

The busiest travel season ever is coming – here are 5 hacks to make it easier.

Thanks to Brio, the makers of my ride-or-die beard trimmer for sponsoring this article. Primer readers get a free silicone travel sleeve plus a discounted price when you buy a Beardscape V2!

It seems like there are two types of packers. And I don’t relate to either of them.

The first is the packer who proudly takes barely anything. Nary more than a toothbrush and deodorant. Maybe a comb, but probably not. This packer is proud to pack light and boasts that they travel on a three week work trip with only a backpack, and assails anyone who suggests needing to pack more than that.

The second type of packer is the complete other end. They would gladly pay for a second checked bag so that they can just bring everything in case of emergency – and they’ve never even experienced any of those emergencies. Part of it is probably anxiety but the other part is just not wanting to have to think about what they need to pack. So they hold their bag up next to their bathroom shelf and dump everything in.

If you’re in the middle of those two like I was, you probably carry more than the first but rarely feel like you have your normal routine like the second. You probably have a small dopp kit that has a couple travel-sized products from Target and a mishmash of things you’ve had to pick up on the last 10 years of trips because you often don’t have what you need.

But awhile ago I decided to more intentionally take that middle path: I don’t want to have to stress when packing, I want all of my normal things, and I don’t want to take up a lot of space.

What I Want in a Travel Kit

An animated gif opening two sections of a hard-sided dopp kit showcasing how much can be fit into one in an organized way
If you’re flying with only a carryon bag, your liquids will still need to be kept in a separate plastic bag to go through security.

I like my grooming routine. I like being able to do what I do at home when I’m somewhere else, especially if I have to give a presentation or speech because I’m traveling for work or I’m in a wedding.

Not only does having my usual supplies make things quicker and more effortless when getting ready away from home, it allows me to be more comfortable and it certainly reduces stress.

a soft sided dopp kit with toiletry items overflowing from it
There’s nothing easy or fast about trying to get ready from a bag like this. “THIS ISN’T HOW WE’RE SUPPOSED TO LIVE,” my adult brain shouts at me.

What I want is a compact, organized, but easily packable kit. One that allows me to determine what I bring based on my actual routine:

  • Not only do I want to be able to do my normal routine, I want to be able to do it with the tools I normally do it with. I want to take my electric toothbrush because I like my electric toothbrush. I want to take my regular beard trimmer because I trust it and I know it.
  • Maintainable organization is important to me so that when I’m packing I can easily look at my kit and know if I forgot something or not.
  • It needs to be compact so I can use the same kit for almost every trip, which means it fits in both a suitcase and a backpack.
  • It needs to be organized so that when using the grooming products I don’t have to dig for things and stuff isn’t falling out all over.
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top down shot of an open travel backpack full of clothes and a hard sided dopp kit
I want a kit that gives me my normal routine, that can fit in various travel bags.
a carryon suitcase full of clothes with the hard sided dopp kit inside showing how its small, comparitively

Problems with Existing Dopp Bags & Toiletry Kits

Surprisingly, when you look up guides to packing and traveling with your grooming supplies, a lot of them are just bag recommendations. Most of those recs are dopp kits which are usually just one-section pouches, like a glorified leather pencil holder that everything just gets dumped into. I don’t want to be digging around looking for a specific medicine or tweezers or whatever every time I need something. Plus traditional dopp kit bags hardly hold anything. You can barely fit a beard trimmer and some toothpaste in that thing.

The advantage of using a hard-sided kit like this is you don’t have to unpack everything in your hotel or Airbnb to be able to see and access all of your stuff because it’s organized as you go. All you need is an area that’s big enough for the box to be able to sit on it, then open it up and flip through it like a book. Put it back when you’re done and you don’t have to be digging around all kinds of stuff. That’s awesome.

an open hard-sided toiletries travel kit sitting on the edge of a hotel sink
Small and nimble

Recommendation: The Hard-Sided Toiletry & Grooming Kit

It’s amazing to me that the hard-sided dopp kit barely exists. Why? Because obviously nobody wants to have liquids squeezed out everywhere when your toiletry bag gets yanked around by whoever’s handling your baggage. Or when you stuff it in the back of a trunk and everybody else’s luggage gets put on top. Or someone bumps into you on the subway while you’re carrying your backpack. Why would I use a soft sided bag to house 6 tiny bottles of liquid? That doesn’t even make sense.

If you look for hard-sided toiletry cases, they’re basically just makeup kits, and even those wouldn’t work for our purposes because of their size and shape. So I started digging and I finally landed on this small hard-sided electronics organizer.

an image of an electronics organizer with an arrow pointing to it being used as a toiletries kit
Budget-friendly hard-sided dopp kits are hard to come by, but this cheap electronics organizer works perfectly.

Its unpacked weight of 11 ounces is light: Equivalent to 12 ping pong balls. It’s got two main sections with a two-sided divider in the middle creating 4 total sections. The first has a shallow full mesh zipper pocket on the left that fits flat things like combs and small cases.

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The middle has MOLLE-like straps on both sides and another half zip pocket on one side. I use it to hold a set of third party travel bottles, more on that in a second.

But the fourth section really is the best part. The big section on the right is about 1.5″ deep and is configurable with three Velcro dividers to perfectly section your space for your full-size grooming gear. For me, that’s the Brio Beardscape, my electric toothbrush, and beard brush.

a hard sided travel toiletries case with a beard trimmer displaying a travel lock setting, an electric toothbrush, ollie floss, and a beard brush
All electric grooming tools should have an engageable travel lock like the Brio Beardscape that prevents them from accidentally turning on when bumped in transit. This allows you to pack a fully charged item and not have to bother with making space for the charger.

Grooming & Toiletry Kit Packing Tips

How to Take and Use What You Normally Use

One of the core problems I wanted to solve with my travel kit was being able to use the products I use at home, while traveling.

Why? Because if you’ve ever been to Walmart or Target to buy your travel-sized goods, you’ve got about two choices for each thing. If you don’t want whatever shampoo comes in a travel size, well, then you’re out of luck.

5 travel sized bottles in a travel case that read body wash, shampoo, face wash, LIsterine, and fabric refresher

The easy and surprisingly cheap option is to find a set of plastic travel bottles and fill them with what you’re currently using at home. Depending on your trip that could be just a little bit – why lug around enough shampoo for 10 trips?

→ Even better, many of these come in a clear plastic bag themselves so that on flights where you have to separate your liquids, you can separate them in the clear bag and continue to pack all your other grooming goods in the kit.

Similarly, one of the things I always miss on trips is my normal cologne because I don’t want to take the space of packing a full size bottle. You can pick up a cheap “atomizer” and pour in a little bit of your cologne to take with you.

a gucci cologne bottle with an arrow pointing to a silver refillable fragrance atomizer

Three Approaches to Organization

1. By Function

Much like organizing a kitchen or workshop, it’s instinctive to arrange your travel kit in a way that enhances the convenience and usability of your essential tools. For as much as the case’s space will allow, you keep dental stuff all together, shower stuff all together, and so on. For some, this will be the most obvious and preferred.

2. By Packing Order

The interior of a packed toiletry kit neatly organized with an arrow pointing to an electric toothbrush
I organize my toiletries kit by packing order: Everything that stays in the kit while not traveling is stored together, and things I have to pack every time get stored in a separate section. That way I always know if I packed it without having to take inventory.

This is my new favorite strategy. For me, most of the things I end up forgetting while traveling are some sort of toiletry or grooming product. The method of organizing your toiletry kit by packing order means you pack all of the things that are stored in your kit in one section, and all the things you have to put in it each trip like your toothbrush and beard trimmer in a separate section.

This way, when you’re packing last-minute like I always do, it’s very easy to see if you packed all of those things without having to review the entire travel kit.

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This packing method is more effortless but you don’t get the same streamlined use-sense as packing by function, meaning when doing your dental routine, you may have to flip among the kit to get your toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, or floss. But at least with this method, I know I have them.

3. By Travel Restriction

If you’re traveling by plane with only a carryon, you would still need to have your liquids separate in one compliant clear bag, and everything else in the kit. The non-liquid items can be left in the kit when not in use.

4 travel sized toiletry bottles in a plastic zip bag

List of Things to Pack in a Toiletry Bag or Dopp Kit

Pick and choose based on your needs:

Added each time you pack

  • Toothbrush
  • Prescription medication
  • Beard trimmer or shaver
  • Razor and extra blades (if not using an electric shaver)
  • Contact lens supplies (if applicable)

Permanently packed

  • Toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Shampoo
  • Body wash or soap
  • Mouthwash
  • Dental floss
  • Moisturizer or face lotion
  • Hairbrush or comb
  • Hair product (gel, pomade, or styling cream)
  • Hair styling tools if needed
  • Shaving cream or gel (if clean-shaven)
  • Nail clippers or trimmers
  • Cologne in travel atomizer
  • Earplugs (for noise reduction)
  • Wrinkle releaser / odor eliminator spray (for clothing)
  • Travel-sized stain remover pen or wipes
  • Travel-sized lint roller (for clothing)
  • Wipes (e.g., cleansing wipes or sanitizing wipes)
  • Pain relievers (e.g., ibuprofen or acetaminophen)
  • Adhesive bandages for wounds and blisters (various sizes)
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Tweezers (for splinters)
  • Travel-sized sunscreen (if traveling to sunny destinations)
  • Lip balm or chapstick
  • Eye mask (for better sleep during flights or in unfamiliar accommodations)

Use a Label Maker

a label that reads 'shampoo' on a travel sized bottle

If you have more than two liquids bottles and you don’t want to navigate by smell, use a label maker to identify what your new travel bottles contain.

Use Plastic Wrap Under Caps to Ensure No Leakage

side by side images showing plastic wrap on the mouth of a travel bottle and on the right with the lid on

A simple mom hack to make sure that none of your liquid bottles inadvertently leak or pop open is to take the cap off and place a piece of plastic wrap over the opening and screw the cap back on. This is especially important if you’re using cheap-o bottles, but with enough motivation, any bottle can pop open.

I really use these two items from Brio. I have used the Beardscape and the the electric toothbrush for years. The cool thing is, Brio also understands the annoyances of travel for guys. They have designed features like a travel mode on the trimmer that you can engage by holding down the power button for 5 seconds. If it gets bumped in transit, it won’t turn on and eat the battery until you get to your destination however many hours later.

animated gif showing the travel lock message on the brio beardscape when the button is pushed. It reads "Hold power 5 seconds to unlock/lock"

They also have something I haven’t really seen elsewhere, which is a silicone sleeve that slides over the the clipper blades and the back to protect the blades while traveling. This means the shaver can go right in the hard-sided case without its own case, while also keeping any stray hairs from getting into your kit.

two side by side images showing an orange silicone sleeve that goves over the back of the brio beardscape trimmer to protect the blades while traveling
The silicone sleeve is an easy packing solution. Primer readers can get one free when you buy the Beardscape V2.

What are your grooming kit and toiletry bag travel hacks? Chat with me in the comments!

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